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Before we start talking about whether it’s a 16 or 18 gauge nailer for baseboard, let us talk about why you need to use the right nailer and why this could make or break your baseboard trim installation project.
First, it’s important to mention that trim nailers are categorized by the gauge (thickness) of the nails they’re meant to shoot.
This clearly tells you that a 16-gauge nailer shoots 16ga nails while the 18-gauge nailer shoots 18ga nails.
Interestingly, 18 gauge nails are thinner than 16 gauge nails!
You’ve heard me right- the lower the gauge number, the thicker the nail.
That brings me to another thing you probably know: 18 gauge nailers (shoots up to 2” long nails) are called brad nailers or simply brad nail guns.
On the other hand, 16 gauge nailers (shoots up to 2-1/2” long nails) are technically called finish nailers or just finish nail guns.
Well, a finish nailer is basically involved in the pretty work such as fastening trim molding, attaching wainscoting, and the like (which is more or less all about achieving a flawless finish).
A brad nailer is, on the other hand, designed to help you fire brads- this is simply a thin-gauged nail that’s suited for jobs such as fastening lightweight wood trim.
Here is an interesting point: Both can (and are) used for installing baseboards.
Problem is, you don’t get the same results.
So, which nailer do experts recommend to nail in baseboards?
The answer is right next….
16 or 18 gauge nailer for baseboard? – short answer
Now, the rule of the thumb when it comes to nailing baseboards is: the thicker the nail a nailer shoots, the greater the holding power.
The converse is, needless to say, true: the thinner the nail a nailer shoots, the less the holding strength.
Simply put, baseboards you install with a 16-gauge nailer tend to hold better thanks to the bigger trim nails than those you attach with an 18-gauge nailer.
That brings me another important point in our 16 or 18 gauge nailer for baseboard debate:
Does it mean that you should never use an 18 gauge nailer when mounting baseboards?
Well, nothing can be further from the truth.
Keep reading to find out situations that make woodworkers to prefer an 18-gauge nailer to its 16-gauge counterpart..
16 or 18 gauge nailer for baseboard- when to go the 18-gauge nailer route
The 16-gauge nailer is no angel and has a couple of issues when it comes to baseboard installation.
Now, the biggest challenger that you’re likely to encounter when using the 16 gauge nailer originates from its strongest point: its fatter nails.
You see, due to the chunkier nails (which is why they hold firmer), there’s a risk of you splitting the baseboard (though you can pre-drill holes first if worried about blowing out the piece).
Secondly, the hefty nails leave bigger, uglier holes behind.
Of course, you can fill up and smooth down the unsightly spots easily but that cannot cancel the fact that an 18-gauge nailer makes tinier, neater holes so you’ll have less putty work.
So, should you go the 18-gauge route?
Well, yes but only when you’re installing super delicate, thinner crowns/boards that you fear can crack or split.
In a nutshell, the 16-gauge nailer is the best choice for baseboard installation projects, despite the highlighted shortcomings.
16 vs 18 gauge nailer for baseboard- more questions answered
Can you use 18 gauge nails in a 16 gauge nailer?
Well, we won’t recommend this.
You see, the nailers are designed to use specific nail sizes and using the wrong size can easily mess the aperture the nail shoot through, leading to problems such as premature wear of the nailer.
I know that you can use one of those dual purpose nailers but personally I stay away from 2-in-1’s for the simple reason that I often find them too unreliable for my projects.
In short, use only the recommended fasteners for your nailer unless you’re sure that your dual-purpose tool will work (do we have good ones by the way?).
A word on a 15-gauge nailer
15-gauge nailers also shoot fatter nails, up to 2 ½ in. long, and can be an option for baseboard trim- you’d still end up with an exemplary hold.
In fact, my dad, a veteran woodworker, uses the 15-gauge nailer to nail baseboard to place.
So, can a 15-gauge nailer give you a special advantage?
Overall, 15-gauge nails that you’ll be shooting here are typically collated at some angle so the nose of your 15-gauge nailer reaches even into tighter spaces.
However, and even he admits, 16-gauge nailers are easier to handle- they are generally smaller and lighter than a 15-gauge nail gun.
For this reason, it’s best to stick with a 16-gauge nailer, if given a 15-gauge nailer as an alternative.
A word on a 23-gauge nailer
The last nailer that you need to know about is the 23-gauge nailer (also called the Pin Nailer).
What you should understand is that the Pin nailer is actually the smallest of the three and shoots super tiny 23ga headless nails or to put it more clearly, pins!
Something else: Pin nailers mostly shoot up to 1-in nails, but for a few high-end models that shoot 2” nails.
You don’t expect any holding power from pins so this nailer can never be part of the equation for most baseboard projects.
Okay, some nail with the pins then proceed to apply quality construction adhesive to the baseboard but even then, the results are nothing to write home about.
16 or 18 gauge nailer for baseboard? – recap
Just to recap, the thicker the nail a nailer shoots, the greater the holding power.
As such, a 16-gauge nailer – it shoots the thicker 16ga nails- is the best bet for base-boarding.
Also keep in mind that it’s not advisable to use 18 gauge nails in a 16 gauge nailer- you not only risk damaging the nailer but it can also be hazardous for you.